In this guest post, Dr Bryan Keon-Cohen, AM QC – Founder and Chairman of Aged-care Legal Advocacy and Reform Matter (ALARM) – provides an overview of their legal services for victims of abuse in aged care and the obligation providers have to support and provide transparency in this area.
The volume of sexual assaults being reported in aged care – over 500 incidents in the last quarter of 2021 – is both shocking and disheartening. This staggering figure reveals that the rate at which sexual assaults are reported in residential care has hardly changed since the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care in March 2021. The industry needs to do better as residents deserve to feel safe, protected and heard. Dealing with this problem is also a business imperative as a safe environment for residents should result in benefits for workers with reduced worker turnover and reduced expense in defending claims and supporting victims.
History tells us that aggrieved residents rarely know about, or seek to exercise, their legal rights. This must change. Providers should take active steps to better understand, and respect their residents’ rights, and ensure their employees understand tell-tale signs of abuse and what to do if they become aware of abuse of any nature. ALARM’s focus, in cooperation with all stakeholders, is to seek to achieve such reforms.
As President and founder of ALARM, I believe OPAN’s Ready to Listen project is a commendable initiative, as it aims to give providers the tools to appropriately respond to reports of sexual abuse. Every report should be taken seriously and treated with the utmost care and diligence. It is a delicate area to navigate. However, with adequate training, providers and their staff should feel more confident in responding to such abuse effectively, focusing on care and support for the victim, and taking all necessary measures to both deal with the perpetrator and prevent such conduct in future.
Trauma support for victims, prevention strategies and guidelines on how to report incidents to police are all critical elements of Ready to Listen. Informing residents and their families of their legal rights is an essential element of open and honest discourse. Our view is that providers should include ALARM’s contact details in residents’ contracts and industry newsletters, and post them on their notice boards.
Why? Because a provider who does that is saying that it knows its obligations, is taking care and will take action and responsibility if something goes wrong. Would you prefer your mother/father to live in a home, or your daughter/son to work in a home, that is willing to promote a means to pursue justice or a home that wants to be accountable to no one?
Providers should strive for transparency in aged care so that there is no risk to residents or workers of problems going undetected and of improvements not being made to reduce the risk of ongoing problems.
Organisations like OPAN (Older Persons Advocacy Network) and ALARM seek to help providers make improvements. If a resident is experiencing a problem of any nature, be it sexual assault, medical or physical restraint, inadequate care, diet or medication etc., and wants to understand their rights, ALARM can connect that resident or their family to a lawyer with aged care expertise. The initial consultation with a lawyer is free as we believe that every resident should know their rights and how they can be exercised.
For those who cannot afford a lawyer beyond the first consult, ALARM’s referral service provides the possibility of free access to justice: nobody should be left behind because they cannot afford legal support.
If you are experiencing abuse or neglect in an aged care facility, or know someone who is, contact ALARM for legal support and information.